EPA, East Chicago Remain In Gridlock Over West Calumet Plan

Apr 11, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency and East Chicago’s mayor remain at a standstill over the future of a lead-contaminated public housing complex.

After Mayor Anthony Copeland doubled down on his insistence that the EPA clean West Calumet Housing Complex to a residential standard, the EPA has maintained it can’t move forward with cleanup until it gets more information from the city.

The EPA has different cleanup standards for different land uses, so it always planned to return the contaminated West Calumet Housing Complex to a residential standard.

But it made those plans before Mayor Anthony Copeland ordered the complex torn down last July.

Now, the EPA says it doesn’t know for sure that the land will be used for housing. It wants a redevelopment plan from Copeland before it proceeds, and it’s repeatedly asked him to write one.

But Copeland says he doesn’t need to do so – because the EPA agreed to use a residential standard in its 2014 consent decree with the companies paying for the cleanup.

The EPA says that decree no longer applies to West Calumet. They’ve put that in writing, too, in letters to Indiana’s Congressional delegation.

After Copeland held fast to his position in his state of the city speech last week, the EPA did the same in a statement to Indiana Public Broadcasting. The agency says it’s revising a study of cleanup options for the site, which comprises Zone 1 of the EPA’s USS Lead Superfund site, but that it can’t start working without a future use plan.

“[G]iven EPA’s current uncertainty about future land use in Zone 1, the agency is proceeding with an addendum to its Feasibility Study to evaluate cleanup alternatives and estimate costs for various scenarios,” an EPA spokesperson wrote in an email. “However, EPA cannot select a new remedy for Zone 1 until the City and the East Chicago Housing Authority makes its decision about the future of Zone 1.”

City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the EPA is cleaning up soil in other parts of the Superfund. It did clean the inside of some West Calumet homes last fall, but hasn’t done much remediation since.

About 50 families are still trying to move out of the complex, after their official deadline to do so came and went earlier this month.

Hearings will take place next week for families who don’t want to move to temporary housing units they assigned in East Chicago, Gary and Chicago.